by Pastor Lawrence Bowlin
In this chapter, Jesus charges the twelve apostles to go out among the lost sheep of the House of Israel to preach ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ with accompanying signs and wonders in order to confirm their message. He then exhorts them to dedicate their lives to this task that they would not to be distracted by the things of the world, before warning them of the persecution they will face as a result of their work. But in mentioning this caveat of persecution, Jesus empathizes with them in their weakness and changes his tone somewhat to allay the fears that he knows that they all have.
He says to them in vv.28-31 “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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
In our situation at the moment, we are not as concerned about men who might kill our bodies, but rather an unseen enemy, a virus, that can attack us at will. And that healthy concern can easily turn into an unhealthy fear that causes us great distress emotionally. In Matthew 9.36 Jesus compares the unbelieving Israelites to sheep without a shepherd who are easily harassed and helpless.
The other day while under quarantine I went outside in the backyard to get some exercise and there were some sheep eating grass in the yard. As I approached them, they were overly skittish and jumpy, clearly fearful that I was going to harm them in some way, when all I wanted to do was to pet them.
There are two types of fear in Scripture, the first type describes that distressed condition that we experience in light of various dangers. The second type signifies a healthy regard for and even a reverential awe for the Lord who has compassion on us, even though He is more dangerous than any earthly danger that we might fear. We naturally fear what is unknown to us, and God is less known to us than anything we will ever see or experience in this world. So naturally we would fear such a powerful, omnipresent being. But God doesn’t want us to be distressed in His presence, so he makes Himself known to us as the great shepherd of the sheep who has compassion and pity on us. He makes himself known to us as our shield, and our refuge in times of trouble.
Indeed, we are commanded to fear the Lord. In Deuteronomy 10:20 Moses says, “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him.” This type of fear, David says is “clean,” in Psalm 19:9. It is the other type of fear that is dirty or sinful because we are fearful of lesser things and lesser beings than the God who rules over all.
If we place our fear in the proper object, we will not be emotionally distressed. David says in Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ And he says in Psalm 27:5 “He will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.” No matter whether we are fearful of man or of some natural devastation, having a greater fear of the Lord is the only thing that will bring us comfort and peace in times of trouble. In Psalm 46, we sing, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear thought the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, through the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Here, the psalmist is describing the worst case scenario of a total devastation of the earth, where chaos seemingly reigns. Even then, the psalmist says, he will not be afraid. And why is that? Because, he says, “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help here when morning dawns.”
It is because he fears the Lord more than he fears total devastation that he has confidence and courage in the midst of trials. Even if the nations rage, and the kingdoms of this world totter, and the earth itself melts, the psalmist says, “The Lord of hosts is with us: The God of Jacob is our fortress.”
In the same manner, Jesus teaches his disciples not to fear persecution from men, for God is greater than man. And through this additional revelation he shows his disciples just how valuable they are to him and to his father, by comparing them to common sparrows that are sold in the marketplace for less than a penny. Jesus says, “not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” He knows us so well, and he knows our fears, but he assures us that we are in the palms of his hands, that we are the apple of his eye, and that we are very valuable to him, thus if something evil actually happens to us, it cannot be apart from his good and perfect will for our lives. If we fear the Lord, we must trust him, and hold fast to him in trying times, for that is the only thing that will bring us comfort in our distress.
David says in Psalm 34:4 “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.’ May we all seek the Lord in the midst of our trials, and fear the Lord that we might be delivered from the lesser fears of this world.