(Delivered Sunday, January 15, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Jesus doesn't engage in false advertising. He tells His followers the truth about the things He calls them to do.
We see this in the tenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel. In this passage, Jesus tells His followers plainly about this world's hostility toward the message He calls them to preach. He warns them, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (v. 16). He tells them to "beware of men" (v. 17). He tells them frankly; ". . . You will be hated by all for My name's sake" (v. 22). He says, "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!" (v. 25).
We, too, have been called to be His representatives in this world. And His words in this portion of Scripture give us a sense of the seriousness of our mission.
But that brings us to this morning's passage in Matthew 10:26-31. Look at what He tells His followers - right in the context of all of these warnings of the hostility of men toward the gospel:
"Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be made known.
"Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 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 10:26-31).
Three times in this passage, Jesus issues the repeated command to not be afraid of those who oppose the gospel. In verse 26, He says, ". . . Do not fear them . . ." In verse 28, He says, ". . . Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." And in verse 31, He says, "Do not fear therefore . . ." This morning's passage, then, is meant for us as followers of Jesus Christ - sent out by our Savior into this world; called to live out faithful lives for Him, and to proclaim Him in the midst of those who are hostile to Him and His gospel. And the encouraging word He gives us in it is simply, "Do not be afraid."
When faced with the fear of man, this morning's passage is a call for us - as followers of Jesus - to exercise "gospel courage".
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I wonder; have you felt afraid of sharing the message of God's love through Jesus? Have you had a time when you felt the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit to tell someone about Jesus' love - and yet failed to do speak because of fear?
Stop and think of what was it that made you afraid. Now, it might be that you were afraid because you didn't want to give the message incorrectly. It might be that you didn't want the message of the gospel - as you presented it - to be misunderstood. It might be that you didn't want for your manner to somehow be offensive. I would suggest to you that these are legitimate concerns; but they should never cause us to freeze up and be silent. These kinds of concerns can be overcome with learning and prayer and practice. We can never really hurt people by telling them about someone who loves them as infinitely as Jesus does. And we can be sure that the same Holy Spirit, who prompts us to tell them, will also empower us to tell them in the right way.
But those aren't the only kinds of things that make us freeze up. More often than not, we fail to share the message of Christ because we're afraid of what kind of reaction we'll get from people. We're afraid to speak because they might be offended by the message. We're afraid that the person to whom we're sharing our faith might possess a post-graduate degree in philosophy. We're often afraid that they might react toward us with anger - or perhaps even aggression.
Now those second kinds of concerns are of a completely different nature! Those are the kinds of "fears" that Jesus is speaking of when He says, "Do not be afraid."
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This reminds me of something that the Lord Jesus once told the apostle Paul. There was a time when Paul was very afraid of preaching the gospel. He had good reason for his fears. He had been preaching in the ancient city of Corinth; and he was beginning to experience strong hostility and resistance toward the gospel from the Jewish people that lived there. Paul had been in this kind of situation enough times to know what could very well lay ahead for him - perhaps violence, perhaps arrest, perhaps a long time in prison. I believe that even he - even the great apostle Paul - had a moment of fear, and was tempted to clam up.
But we're told that the Lord appeared to him in a vision of the night; and told him something that gave him courage. He said, "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10).
Our Lord didn't just tell Paul not to be afraid. He gave Paul some good, solid reasons WHY he shouldn't be afraid. He told Paul that he wasn't alone; that He - the Lord Himself - was with Paul. Then the Lord told him that, even though he was experiencing opposition, nothing would happen to him that would ultimately harm him. And finally, the Lord assured Paul that the results were guaranteed - that the Lord had many people in that ancient city who were appointed for salvation, and who would hear and believe.
And as the Bible tells us, Paul then went on in the power of that encouragement to minister for another year and a half in Corinth. Many came to believe on the Savior as a result. Today, we have two books in our Bibles that were written to the many believers of Corinth.
As I see it, our Lord - as it were - put His arm around Paul and gave him substantive reasons why he should not be afraid of men. And that's how I have grown to look at this morning's passage. It's as if the Lord looks in mercy upon us - His people, whom He has called to be His spokespeople in this day and before this culture. It's as if He knows that we, too, are intimidated by the likelihood of opposition and scorn - and possibly even the violence - that might come upon us for telling others about Him. And it's as if our Lord places a loving arm around us and tells us some things that we need to know - things that give us solid reasons for going forward and speaking for Him in spite of our fears.
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; it is our privilege to bear the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people that God has put in our lives. It is even our privilege to bring the message of the gospel to bear in our culture - and to be "salt" and "light" in our world.
And this passage encourages us that we can share the message of the gospel courageously when we remember the three things Jesus teaches us in it. These three things take away every fearful reason for us to hesitate when sharing the message of God's love through Christ.
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The first thing that Jesus would have us remember is . . .
1. THAT GOD'S TRUTH WILL NOT BE HIDDEN (vv. 26-27).
Notice what Jesus says about the hostile people of this world. "Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known" (v. 26).
I wonder if you recognize that phrase in Jesus' teaching. It was a phrase that Jesus often repeated. He used it in different settings. But what does He mean by that phrase when He uses it here?
Some have suggested that He is saying that we are not to fear what men may say about us when we share the gospel with them. God will see to it that our true character is one day made known. After all, in the verse just prior to this, Jesus warns that if they call Him names, they will surely call His followers names as well. But we're not to fear the 'name-callers'; because "there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known."
As the Bible teaches us, the true character of all men will one day be made known. This will include His own saints. The apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5). So, it may be that this is what Jesus means in this verse.
But another possibility is that He's not so much speaking of the righteous character of the saints; but rather, that the evil character of those who oppose the gospel will one day be made known. The plots of evil people, who actively oppose the spread of the message of Christ, can sometimes be made out to be virtuous and tolerant in the eyes of men. But this shouldn't stop us from faithfully proclaiming Jesus; because the truth about those plots will one day be revealed.
Jesus used this phrase on another occasion, He was warning His disciples about the Pharisees; and He told them, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops" (Luke 12:1-3). After all, no one can hide things from the Judge of all the earth. And He will see to it that the true character of every man and woman will be known. And so, it may be that this is what Jesus means.
Now of course, I believe that both of those things are absolutely true. God will reveal the truth on the last great day - both about those who believe His gospel in faith, and those who oppose His gospel out of sin. But let me tell you what I think Jesus specifically meant by His use of this phrase here. I suggest that when our Lord uses this phrase in this case, He is saying something directly about the message of the gospel. He is telling us something that is meant to give us courage in the face of opposition. He is telling us that, no matter how hard the evil people of this world may attempt to do so, the message of the gospel cannot and will not be covered over or hidden.
Once, when Jesus was teaching His disciples about the meaning of some of His parables, He said, "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand?" And then He went on to say, "For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light" (Mark 4:22; see also Luke 8:16-17).
Jesus didn't keep any secrets about the things He taught. When they came to arrest Him in the garden, He said, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me" (Matthew 26:55). And when He stood on trial, He told the high priest, "I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing" (John 18:20). Even Paul, when he later stood on trial before Herod Agrippa for preaching the gospel of Jesus, said, "For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; "there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known" - and this is true, above all else, of our Lord's gospel! This is meant, then, to encourage us that no power on earth can ever cover up or hide the message of the gospel. No amount of persecution or opposition will ever successfully silence it.
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This, by the way, is why Jesus then goes on to say, "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (v. 27). We are commanded to speak forth - with boldness and confidence - what cannot be covered and hid by men.
Jesus lets us know that we are His divinely-appointed gospel "megaphones" on this earth! What He, as it were, tells us in the night hours (when few people are around) we are to speak in the daylight hours (when the crowds are awake and going about their business). What He, as it were, whispers in our ear (which is what is implied by the fact that it is spoken into only one ear) we are to broadcast loudly from the public places (where everyone can hear it).
Did you know that at the time when men will most seek to suppress the gospel - during the Great Tribulation - God will send forth a mighty angel to fly throughout the heavens, "having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth - to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people" (Revelation 14:6-7)? It's a message that cannot be covered-over or hidden, no matter how hard evil men may try! So, we ought to cease from our fear of men and boldly proclaim that which is guaranteed to be revealed.
Let's always remember that it is impossible for any man - or even a whole world of men - to stop what God commands be broadcast forth. When we remember that, we'll broadcast it boldly and confidently!
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This leads us to a second thing our Lord would have us remember . . .
2. THAT GOD'S AUTHORITY IS GREATER THAN MAN'S (v. 28).
Jesus goes on to say, "And to not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (v. 28a). But this doesn't mean that we should be without fear. Jesus goes on to say, "But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (v. 28b).
The two words translated "fear" in this verse are exactly the same in the original language. But they describe two dramatically different kinds of fear. One is describing the fear of man; which is a self-serving, self-interested, cowardly kind of fear of someone who can - ultimately - cause us no eternal harm whatsoever. This first kind of fear is forbidden to the believer.
Now the fact is that, unless the Lord Jesus returns for us in our lifetime, all of our bodies are destined to die. We can be certain of this. We can in no way escape death - for, as the Bible says, ". . . it is appointed for man to die once" (Hebrews 9:27). So, the very worst thing that men can do to us, in opposition to the message we have been commanded to preach, is bring about something that was already appointed to happen to us anyway! And even then, that only sends us to a situation far greater and more glorious. As Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
So the first use of the word "fear" is meant to describe the fear of man; and we are not to be characterized by such a fear. But the other use of the word "fear" is describing the fear of God; which is a healthy, reverential, realistic response of awe and obedience to the majesty and authority of God.
Jesus mentions the fact that God is able to do what man can do - that is, kill the body. But He is able to do more than man can do - and that is, to destroy both body and soul in the place of eternal judgment. And this isn't meant to make believers afraid of eternal judgment as much as it is meant to make us NOT afraid of man. It's meant to teach us that as great as human authority may be, God's authority is always infinitely greater. We are to not fear man, but fear God instead.
And it's this second kind of fear that makes it possible for us to be unafraid of men. As someone has very well put it, we all have a choice: "Fear God or fear everything!"1 All neurotic and soul-damaging fears that we can ever have will ultimately come from just one thing: a failure to fear God first!
We could put it this way: Fear God; and you'll never have a reason to fear anything or anyone else.
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Now, how do we apply this? I believe it's important to stress that it is our duty as Christians to obey the human authorities that God has placed over us. We are commanded to be subject to the governing authorities, inasmuch as they are appointed by God (Romans 13:1-7). We are to do obey human authority, so long as that human authority does not call us to disobey God.
But placing the fear of God over the fear of man means that we always view God's authority as greater. And should human authority ever command us to disobey God or keep silent about our Savior, we must remember that we are under a greater authority. We must, in that case, disobey human authority and boldly proclaim Jesus Christ in obedience to the Great Commission.
There is a wonderful illustration of this for us in the Book of Acts. The Jewish leaders sought to silence the preaching of the apostles - who were convincing everyone that Jesus was alive. The message of the resurrected Christ was spreading all over Jerusalem; and many people were being saved. So the leaders met together to decide what to do:
"But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name." So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:17-20).
Now; what can you do with someone who has that much conviction? The leaders could do nothing. All they ended up doing was threaten the apostles further and let them go.
As the apostles kept on preaching, the high priest rose up and put them in prison - planning to bring them to trial the next morning. But in the middle of the night, an angel came and released them and told them, "Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life" (Acts 5:20). And so, in the morning, when the high priest gathered all the council together to try the apostles, he sent to the prison to fetch them - and found instead that they were out preaching in the temple again! So he called them before the council and said, "did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!"
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:29-32).
What boldness! There was no fear of man in those words. There was, of course, due respect for God-appointed authority - but no fear! And I suggest that the reason they had no fear of men was because they feared God first.
Dear brothers and sisters; the fear of God displaces the fear of man in our hearts. We will never be hindered by the fear of men so long as we first fear God. We will speak out boldly in obedience to Christ's command; because His authority is greater than that of mere man. We may then boldly say, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).
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Finally, the Lord Jesus would have us remember . . .
3. THAT GOD'S EYE IS ALWAYS UPON HIS PEOPLE (vv. 29-31).
Notice how He teaches us this. He says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?" (v. 29a).
Did you know that "sparrows" were a food item in biblical times? If you were to go out to the market-places in those days, and you wanted to pick up some "fast food", you would buy a couple of sparrows. They were, you might say, the "cheeseburgers" of the ancient world. And they were cheap, too! You could buy two for an assarion, which was a Roman coin that was the rough equivalent of one-sixteenth of a denarius. In modern dollars, that would work out to a "sparrow" for about $1.50! (Is any of this making you hungry, by the way?)
And what's more, when Luke records the words of our Lord, he has Jesus saying, "Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?" In other words, you can get two for one copper coin, or five for two copper coins! They're so cheap, they'll even throw in an extra! (Now come on; this has really got to be making you hungry by now!)
But look at what Jesus then tells us! He says that even though these sparrows are so cheap and seemingly unimportant that you can get one thrown in for free, ". . . not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will" (v. 29b).
Do you ever pay attention to the birds that land in your backyard? You might notice them. You might even enjoy watching them. But you probably don't keep track of every landing! But the Father does! In fact, in the original language, Jesus puts this in a marvelous way. The word "will" is not in the original; so it literally says, "Not one of them falls to the ground without your Father." That could mean that none of the little birds fall to the ground apart from the Father's will; or apart from His knowledge; or apart from His divine permission; or apart from His attentiveness; or apart from His presence - or perhaps all of the above! It simply stresses the point that none of them fall to the ground without the Father! That's how much His attention is focused on these little sparrows that all of the rest of us consider to be so cheap and insignificant!
What a picture of the sovereign care of the Father this is! And yet, the point is that if He cares about the sparrows; how much more does He care about what happens to you and me? How much more valuable and precious are we to Him then they?
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Do you notice what else Jesus says? He says, "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (v. 30). Now; some of us may care a whole lot more about this than we do about the birds landing in our back yard! We may be watching our hair pretty carefully; and we may be concerned about how much hair remains on our head in general. But we certainly don't have figures on how many hairs are there!
But our Father does! Jesus says that the very hairs of our head are all numbered; and what's marvelous is that He uses a tense of the verb2 that suggests that the number is continually updated. He is saying that the very hairs of your head are continually being numbered!
Just for fun, reach up right now and pull out a hair. (Make sure it's your own, though.) Did you pull it out? Look at it! Do you realize we just made something happen in heaven? The stats concerning the hairs on our head have all been updated! That's how closely the Father watches over you and me.
And of course, here's the point. Jesus says, "Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (v. 31). If God knows so much about the sparrows - and you are of far greater value to Him than the sparrows; and if He even knows you to the extent that He knows how many hairs are on your head at any single moment; then you have no reason to ever fear man! There is nothing that can happen to you that will ever be outside of His constant care and supervision for you. You are unspeakably precious to Him; and He will never allow anything to fall upon you that doesn't pass His divine approval first.
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I love how Paul puts it. He writes,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:"For Your sake we are killed all day long;
Dear brothers and sisters, we are under a commission to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ in our world. We have a message to proclaim that the world cannot cover or hide. We are under an authority to proclaim it that is far greater than man's authority to stop it. And we have a powerful heavenly Father who watches us constantly and lovingly and sovereignly as we go forth in proclamation of it.
"Therefore, do not be afraid . . ."
1Fredrick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), vol. 1, p. 484.
2A perfect passive participle.
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